“Leave it as it is. The ages have been at work on it and man can only mar it.”
—- Theodore Roosevelt
Beauty of Bears Ears – Celebrating the New Monument by Corey Robinson
In order to protect more than 1.35 million acres of land containing historic, cultural and natural resources in the high desert country of southeastern Utah, President Barack Obama designated Bears Ears a national monument in December 2016 under the Antiquities Act of 1906. Bears Ears has long been considered sacred by Native American tribes, a place for spirituality, healing and reflection, and they have worked since the 1930’s to protect and preserve it as the presence of Native American culture within the area can be traced back many thousands of years.
There are an estimated 1,000 archeological sites located in the Bears Ears landscape of red rock, juniper forests and high plateau, the majority not yet studied by western archeologists, including the visually stunning, 3,500 year old Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, great houses and villages, ancient roads, shrines, and rock art. Designation as a US national monument offers protection against excavation or destruction for these invaluable antiquities so that they may be preserved for the benefit of future generations. However, Bears Ears is again at risk as it has gotten caught up in politics.
In December 2017, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation that purports to overturn the creation of Bears Ears National Monument. Protests, lawsuits and congressional bills followed, and documents obtained from the US Department of Interior indicate that the purpose of revoking the Bears Ears National Monument designation was to open up the lands to oil and gas and uranium development.
While 16 US presidents have designated 157 national monuments under the authority of the Antiquities Act (Devils Tower National Monument was the first in 1906) and federal courts have repeatedly upheld presidential national monument designations, it often arouses controversy over issues of industry/business development v. protection and preservation of federal lands and its natural resources. Just one example — the Grand Canyon. Today, it’s considered an American treasure, but not everyone was on board in the beginning.
A senate bill was first introduced in 1887 to establish the Grand Canyon a national park, but it died in committee and mining and logging were allowed to continue in the area. In 1908, President Teddy Roosevelt, an avid outdoorsman and conservationist, used his authority under Antiquities Act to proclaim more than 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon a national monument. A bitter fight began and continued for more than a decade as opponents filed lawsuits claiming President Roosevelt had overstepped his authority and attempted to block all efforts to reclassify the Grand Canyon National Monument a national park. Fortunately, preservation advocates eventually prevailed. Grand Canyon National Park was established by an Act of Congress signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on February 26, 1919, and currently receives approximately 5 million visitors each year.
Defenders of the Grand Canyon did not give up, and more than a century later, the fight for Bears Ears National Monument is just as intense.
Bears Ears has been home to Hopi, Navajo, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni people for many centuries, and they have worked for decades to protect its countless archeological, cultural and natural resources. For more information about this remarkable cultural landscape and efforts to protect it, go to the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition website → HERE
Bears Ears National Monument, US Bureau of Land Management, Department of Interior
Visitor Information – Utah Office of Tourism, Bears Ears National Monument The best times to go are March – June and September – October.
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Feature photo: House on Fire Ruin, Upper Mule Canyon near Comb Ridge, by John Fowler CC BY 2.0
Photo of Indian Creek and Cliffside, Bears Ears National Monument, courtesy of the US Bureau of Land Management, Public Domain